Monday, May 4, 2015

British TV: Drama

Here are several recent and past British television dramas. Many of these can be found on BBC America, Youtube, Netflix and/or on DVD.

Drama trailer for 2015 (BBC)


Along with Doctor Who, probably the most popular British TV show in the world right now/ A modern update of the Edinburgh-native Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories of detective Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), and his trusted companion, Watson (Martin Freeman). Series 4 returns later this year.


A huge hit when it premiered two years ago (and a moderate hit with the second series this past February), the mystery series stars Olivia Coleman and David Tennant about police detectives in a small English town solving a shocking  murder. Available on Netflix. Skip the US remake
Episode 1:


A rather far-fetched but riveting police drama based in London and starring Idris Elba as DI John Luther. Available on Netflix and DVD


A 2015 psychological thriller set in the fictional Norway town of Fortitude. Stars Michael Gambon (Dumbledore in Harry Potter), Stanley Tucci, and Christopher Eccleston (9th doctor in Doctor Who).


House of Cards

Many of you may seen the Netflix series, House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright (which just completed its third series). But most probably have not seen the original Michael Dobbs-written and stars Edinburgh-born actor Ian Richardson. This also ran for three series. Available on Netflix:
Series 1 intro:

Monarch of the Glen

A Scotland Highlands-based comedy-drama (it was produced by BBC Scotland), about a London chef returning to his ancestral home in Scotland.

Wire in the Blood

A crime series base don the books by Scottish crime novelist Val McDermid. It's about DI Siobhan and clinical psychologist Tony Hill. Can be found on Youtube and Netflix.

Casual Vacancy

Based on JK Rowling's best selling novel -- her first post-Harry Potter effort -- about a small-town election.

However, it's really an examination of class in British life. This HBO-BBC adaption stars Michael Gambon (Dumbledore)

Wolf Hall

 Based on one of the best novels of the past decade -- Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall -- this is perhaps the best version of Henry VIII and his wives I've seen,. Told form the viewpoint of Thomas Cromwell (usually the villain in these stories). Here he is more sympathetic and modern. Incredible acting all around. A must for Tudor fans -- and heads and shoulders above The Tudors from a few years back (although a much slower paced and less sexed-up version).

Enfield Poltergeist

Based on a true-life haunting (more than likely a hoax), this brand-new series looks at paranormal investigators looking into a haunting of a working class family. Quite scary.





Happy Valley

Billed as a Netflix original, it actually was a BBC production. About a middle-aged single mother police officer trying to make ends meet while investigating a kidnapping. Brilliantly acted. Be warned -- it is dark material, despite its title.


An institution in Britain since the 1980s . A soap opera based in the East End (working class) area of London, it is one of the most popular TV shows in the UK. Below is a recent episode:

Coronation Street

The other major soap opera -- on the air since the 1960s. Takes place in North England. Below is a typical recent episode:

Call the Midwife

A huge hit in the US and UK -- about midwives during the 1950s and 1960s.


A brand new series (there was an earlier version in the 1970s) set in Cornwall during the time of the American Revolution. Base don the historical novels of Winston Graham. It's been a huge hit this spring.

Scottish TV

Earlier I posted clips and trailers for several mainstream British shows (shown throughout the UK). Today, let's look at some shows produced by STV (Scotland Television) and BBC Scotland for primairly Scottish audiences (although a few of these became hits in the UK and beyond).

Based on the worldwide bestselling crime novels by Edinburgh-native Ian Rankin, these STV shows adapted several novels featuring Detective John Rebus. He was played by two actors (John Hannah, pictured, and then Ken Stott). Filmed primarily in Edinburgh.

Clips (Ken Stott version)

Opening titles and clips (John Hannah version)

Bob Servant

A 6-episode comedy that aired last year, based on a series of hilarious articles and books by Neil Forsyth. Bob Servant is a former hamburger restaurant owner in the small town of Broughty Ferry who decides to run for the British Parliament. The show is about his inept campaign and his decidedly poor handle on political matters. Stars Scottish actor Brian Cox (of X-Men, Troy, Bourne films and who played the original Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter). Most of the shows are currently available on Youtube.

Case Histories

Based on the novels by Kate Atkinson, and stars Scottish actor Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies, and Draco's father), this is a crime mystery series based in Edinburgh. Here's a trailer for it (and it is available in the US on DVD). It ran for two series.


This is a popular comedy sketch show from BBC Scotland starring Glasgow comedians Iain Connell and Robert Florence. It's a series of short sketches all based in a fictional West Scotland town. The show ran three seasons (called series in the UK).

Clip 1: Burnistoun Tourist Board

Clip 2 Awkward Eye Contact at the Gym (contains some mild language)

River City

A Glasgow-based soap opera from BBC Scotland  that began airing in September 2002. Based in a fictional area of the West End of Glasgow (an area we will visit), the hour show airs each Tuesday 9it originally aired twice a week in half-hour shows). Forget Brave and Braveheart -- this is the real Glasgow (minus the murders, affairs, and crimes

Opening theme:
Typical episode

Chewin the Fat

Another Glasgow-based BBC sketch comedy show that ran from 1999 to 2002, yet still has a big following. Starred Greg Hemphill and Karen Dunbar (more with her below).

Clip 1Those Who Can and "Can't"

Clip 2 Shakira parody (mild language)

Single Father

A 4-part 2010 mini series about a newly widowed father of three (played by David Tennant of Doctor Who and Harry Potter fame). Excellent, emotional drama. Filmed in Edinburgh and Glasgow by BBC Scotland. (Can you tell that the BBC Scotland is based in Glasgow?)


The Karen Dunbar Show

A BBC Scotland produced comedy sketch show from 2002-2005 that is still popular. Stars the popular comedian from Ayr, Scotland, Karen Dunbar (from Chewin the Fat).

Paperclip as a Q-tip

The longest running police drama in the UK (has been on since 1983), This is about a Glasgow Police Detective named Jim Taggart, who was played by Mark McManus till his death in 1994. But instead of replacing him, they killed off the character and simply kept the series going.

Opening titles:

When Taggart Met Rebus (for the 2009 Children in Need charity)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

British TV: Panel and Chat Shows

Nevermind the Buzzcocks
Started in 1996, this is a comedy panel show about popular music. Over the course of four rounds, two teams of three (led by comedians Phil Jupitus and Noel Fielding, with weekly guests) answer questions about music and songs. Currently hosted by Welsh comedian Rhod Gilbert, it has had a plethora of hosts over the years. The show has run through 28 series and 296 episodes so far.

Phil Jupitus and Noel Fielding
Below is the Doctor Who version of Nevermind the Buzzcocks that aired just before David Tennant (who hosted that week's show) left as the Doctor.

QI (Quite Interesting)

Alan Davies and host Stephen Fry
Hosted by Stephen Fry, QI is a panel comedy-quiz show in which four celebrity panelists (including permanent guest comedian-actor Alan Davies) answer trivia based questions. Points are given out for correct answers, and guests try to avoid the “obvious” answer (a flashing screen with the answer results). The goal is more about enlightening the audience rather than winning the game. Each series (of 16 episodes each) is built around a letter (starting with A in series 1). They are currently on Series L (Series M will start in September).

Mock the Week

Dara O'Briain and crew
A topical comedy panel show in which comedians perform improvised comedy based on that week’s news. Sort of a Whose Line Is It Anyways meets The Daily Show. Started in 2005, and hosted by Irish comedian Dara O’Briain, it has aired for 13 series (of usually 13 shows each) on BBC 2. Below is their 2015 New Year's special:

Have I Got News For You

One of the first celebrity panel shows, this BBC regular started in 1990, and now has run for over 422 episodes. It takes a satirical look at the news via a quiz show format. Rotating hoists and guests are met each episode by regulars comedians Paul Merton and Ian Hyslop.

University Challenge

A tougher, less forgiving version of Jeopardy, this is a British tradition that goes back to 1962. The original series ran from 1962 to 1987 for 900+ episodes. The current version started in 1994 hosted by news broadcaster Jeremy Paxman. The show consist of two teams of university students who compete “Brain Brawl style”. Here is chat host Graham Norton playing thr game with Paxman:

Chat shows
The Graham Norton Show

For Americans (thanks to BBC America), this is the best known of the British chat shows. Hosted by Irish comedian Norton, this is the closet the UK has to the Tonight Show/Late Show, if a bit boozier and looser. The main difference is that all the guests come out at once. The show started (not in its 17th series) started in 2007 on BBC Two, but was switch to BBC One in 2010 with the end of the popular Jonathan Ross Show (see entry below). Here is the episode with Benedict Cumberbatch:

The Jonathan Ross Show

Currently in its 8th series (like many series, it runs two series a year) with a total of 97 episodes, it is hosted by popular yet controversial presenter and comedian Jonathan Ross. Like Norton, his is a British version of the late night chat show. He is most famous for a 2002-2010 BBC show, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, but was let go by the BBC after several controversial pranks. (He was replaced by the aforementioned Graham Norton Show). Because of BBC America, he was popular in the US, but is less known now, as there is no US version of ITV.


While no longer on the air, Michael Parkinson’s interview show was an institution in the UK from 1971 till 2007, with over 500 episodes. “Parky” interviewed nearly every major UK and American  celebrity. Some have been controversial, such as his frankly sexist interview of then-newcomer Helen Mirren (see video below). Scottish comedian Billy Connolly broke into the mainstream with a hilarious appearance on Parkinson’s show (Connolly also appeared with Michael Caine on Parkinson’s last show, as well -- also below)